“WHAT. We lied?” “… Alls we do is lie.” So ran an exchange of texts between colleagues at the building materials company Kingspan , after it began marketing one of its insulation products, Kooltherm K15, as having a “Class 0” rating, taken at the time to be suitable for use in high-rise blocks. K15 was used on Grenfell Tower. The sordid story of how that came to be was revealed at the inquiry into the Grenfell fire.
What so amused Kingspan employees was their ability to market K15 as Class 0 without testing the material as a whole; the company simply tested the foil facer. “You could staple a foil facer to dynamite and put it on a building of above 18 metres and call it Class 0?” Richard Millett QC rhetorically asked Adrian Pargeter, a Kingspan director. Which is not that far from what actually happened.
Too little attention is being paid to the Grenfell inquiry. What is being brutally exposed is the inhumanity of companies trying to scam the system, irrespective of consequences for people’s lives, and of regulations as fit for purpose as the Grenfell cladding itself.
“We didn’t even have to get any real ale down him!” Kingspan’s then technical manager boasted in 2009, after the local authority building control certified K15 as being “of limited combustibility” when it clearly wasn’t.
The revelations are just the latest exposure of how the market really works. From Volkswagen cheating emission tests to pharmaceutical companies creating America’s opioid crisis, this is the reality of putting profit before people. “We’re not in the business of making steel; we’re in the business of making profits,” the CEO of US Steel once observed. And don’t worry about the bodies piling up.
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist